Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Softening Subordinationism

FOR VON BALTHASAR, the Christian moral life is it its essence a participation in the relationship between the Father and the Son, the "eternal begottenness" which exists between Father and Son. The earthly work of Jesus the Son of God incarnate is a temporal expression of the eternal begottenness between the Father and the Son. Jesus does the will of the Father in accomplishing his mission among men.  The Word eternally does the will of the Father.  That will of the Father, which is unchanging, and which the the person of the eternal Word in both his eternal nature and incarnate human nature responds to perfectly, is therefore one and the same.  Jesus' divine will and human will are in perfect accord, so the expression of his human will is an expression of his divine one.*  Since as Christians we are called to do the Father's will, and understanding of the relationship between the Father and the Son is essential.  This, in a nutshell, seems to be the heart of the moral enterprise in von Balthasar's eyes.

The matter of the relationship between the divine will of Jesus and his human will and their relationship to the eternal will of the Father is delicate.  In identifying the divine will and the human will of Christ, there is a risk of falling into a sort of subordinationism, that is, of making the Son in his divine nature subordinate or inferior to the Father. To subordinate the eternal will of the Son to the eternal will of the Father would be an improper subordination and denial of the essential equality of Father and Son.  However, it would not be improper to subordinate the created (human) will of Jesus to the eternal will of the Father, since, in his human nature though not in his divine nature, Jesus is subordinate to the Father.**  It is important to hold to the subordinate characteristic of Jesus' human nature and will to the eternal will of the Father and the Son.***

The subordination of Christ's human will  to the will of the Father is amply testified to in Scripture:  "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)  "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.'" (John 4:34)  "I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me." (John 5:30b)  "[T]he world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me." (John 14:31)  ". . . the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins that he might rescue us from the present evil age in accord with the will of our God and Father . . . ." (Gal. 1:3b-4)

If the earthly work of God the Son is a revelation of the eternal relationship between God the Son and God the Father, how do we reconcile the lack of subordinationism in the eternal relationship between God the Father and God the Son (in his divine nature) with the clear subordinationsim that exists between God the Son (in his human nature) and God the Father?

To some extent, the reconciliation can be aided by removing from the relationship of the human nature of Christ and the Father all "negative qualities associated with some human experiences of obedience--for example, inequality, antagonism, power relations, and heteronomy."  Steck, 40.   (But this also runs the risk of perverting the relationship between man and God, which, of necessity is a relationship of unequals and has an element of heteronomy arising from our created nature, and indeed our created being, and its absolute reliance upon God. Our relationship with God is not a relationship of equals.)

 The Trinity Crowning the Blessed Virgin Mary by Enguerrand Charonton (1410-1466)

Modernly, the notion of subordinating oneself to another is unappetizing.  Of course, this does not mean we go about modifying our Trinitarian or Christological doctrines to suit modern, autonomous man (or modern, autonomous woman).  We are traveling on dangerous ground when we try to accommodate truth (dogma) to man, and not man to truth (dogma).

Von Balthasar seems to soften the blow of obedience by seeing subordination within the context of love and communion, so that obedience is seen as something that affirms one's being (and the other's being), and not something which deforms one's being.

[F]or von Balthasar interpersonal love includes a moment of obedience. The individual's response to the appearing form is always one of loving obedience or obedient loving. Loving the other means welcoming his or her address. In so receiving this address, the individual allows his identity to be shaped in part by the relationship with this other. His actions are realigned with the desire to "let be" this other. Thus obeying the beloved other need not be equated essentially with a submission response to outside intervention, though we recognize that all too often in human relationships that element dominates. Rather obeying the beloved can be a faithfulness to that which is already in some sense, though not entirely, internal to use because of our loving commitment.

Steck, 40-41. Relationships between persons are, moreover, principally communions--co-"unions of freedoms"--and not "monophonic exchanges."  They require that we be open to the other, that we suspend ourselves to be able to be receptive.  This obedience-as-suspended-receptivity and not obedience-as-unilateral-submission that von Balthasar stresses is what's involved.  As Steck elaborates this point:
It is misleading to describe this receptivity to the other simply as a mode or our own willing--that is, we will that the beloved's will be done. It is rather a suspended receptivity (or, indifference) to the essentially unknown and unanticipated, spontaneity and mystery of the other. This suspended receptivity, and not the element of coerciveness, is what von Balthasar underscores in his use of the language of obedience. This receptivity, we will see, is perfected in the individual's surrender to divine glory and his obedience to the Father's will.

Steck, 41. If Christ submission and subordination to the will of the Father (in his human nature) is seen as this "suspended receptivity," then we may analogize from that to the eternal "suspended receptivity" of the Son of God to the Father God.  By identifying the human "suspended receptivity" of Christ's human will as the revelation of the eternal "suspended receptivity" of Christ's divine will to the eternal will of the Father, we are further along to understanding how the revelation of the economic trinity is the revelation of the immanent trinity.  We are able, at least in von Balthasar's view, to overcome the problem of subordiationism that the Rahnerian axiom (economic Trinity as revealed in Christ = immanent Trinity as eternally existing) presents.

It is this sort of thinking that allows von Balthasar radically to appreciate what has eternally occurred in the relations within the Godhead (and so appreciate what occurs when we become participants of the divine life by grace):

The personal and total surrender of the Father in generating the Son is the ur-kenosis of the triune life and its primal shape. The Son cannot be God in any way other than by following this patter of self-giving. The kensoses of the Incarnation and of Good Friday and Holy Saturday and the regular pattern of earthly obedience are only new expressions of this triune way of being. The Father's gift of himself to the Son has its own dimension of receptivity as it includes a perfect receptivity or openness to the Son's return of all to the Father and thus something like obedience.

Steck, 41-42.

There are further effects of holding to the Rahnerian axiom that the economic Trinity reveals the immanent Trinity when we look at Christ's mission.  Is Christ's mission equally the eternal mission of the triune God? And if so, how?

*Orthodox Christology requires us to be dyothelitist (from Greek δυοθελητισμός = "doctrine of two wills"), not monothelitist (μονοθελητισμός = "doctrine of one will"). The Church teaches that Jesus Christ had two natures, divine and human, with two wills, divine and human. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§ 475) states: "Similarly, at the sixth ecumenical council, Constantinople III in 681, the Church confessed that Christ possesses two wills and two natural operations, divine and human. They are not opposed to each other, but co-operate in such a way that the Word made flesh willed humanly in obedience to his Father all that he had decided divinely with the Father and the Holy Spirit for our salvation. Christ's human will 'does not resist or oppose but rather submits to his divine and almighty will.'" 
**Cf. S.T. Ia, q. 42, art. 4, ad 1. St. Thomas addresses the objection that it would seem that the Son is not equal to the Father in greatness. "For He Himself said (John 14:28): 'The Father is greater than I'; and the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 15:28): 'The Son Himself shall be subject to Him that put all things under Him.'" His response: "These words are to be understood of Christ's human nature, wherein He is less than the Father, and subject to Him; but in His divine nature He is equal to the Father. This is expressed by Athanasius, 'Equal to the Father in His Godhead; less than the Father in humanity': and by Hilary (De Trin. ix): 'By the fact of giving, the Father is greater; but He is not less to Whom the same being is given'; and (De Synod.): 'The Son subjects Himself by His inborn piety'--that is, by His recognition of paternal authority; whereas 'creatures are subject by their created weakness.'" 
***This despite the objection of feminist theologians who fear the implications of patriarchy since if Jesus' human will is subordinate to the Father's eternal will, it suggests that our human will should be subordinate to the Father's will.  Here, their horror patriarchus leads them astray. 
†This point was discussed in our prior posting, "God's Glory Appears: The Trinity's at the Heart of It," which discussed the axiom that the "economic trinity truly reveals, is, the immanent trinity."

Monday, May 28, 2012

God's Glory Appears: The Trinity at the Heart of It

WHEN WE ARE DEALING WITH person-to-person relations, there is a dynamism to be found in the encounter which distinguishes it from a person-to-thing relation.  One moves from a static response to beauty (or glory) to a dynamic interpenetrative response, from "iconic" aesthetics to "dramatic aesthetics" or "theo-dramatic aesthetics," from an "I-Thou" encounter to a "We" encounter.  In such person/beauty-to-person/beauty contact, the "perceived form" of the other is so multivalent that it involves "various parts of our lives (e.g., temporal, personal, vocational, social), illuminating different features and aspects in a manner than cannot be summed us as a single interchange."  Steck, 34-35.  At root, such person-to-person encounter is Trinitarian.

Von Balthasar's thought is intimately Trinitarian, and his view of the Trinity is deeply attached to Christ's revelation.  For von Balthasar, the "economic Trinity"--which is what revealed in the salvific economy of God as found in Christ's mission--reveals the very life of the Trinity itself, i.e., the "immanent Trinity."  Von Balthasar is "resolute[ly] committed" to the Rahnerian "axiom that the econcomic trinity truly reveals, is, the immanent trinity." Streck, 36.  They are equivalent.  What this means is that "the form of the Son's earthly relationship with the Father is itself a revelation of the Eternal Word's procession from the Father." 

Christ's relationship with the Father as witnessed in the Gospel, then, is a revelation of what it means when we say, "God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father." The relationship between Christ and the Father in the Gospels, "was not an anthropomorphic mask assumed for a time and later discarded in the course of salvation history."  Steck, 36-37.  It is this relationship that reveals, that is, the intertrinitarian love that exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the three-persons-in-one-God-love.

The three-persons-in-one-God we call the Trinity involves an eternal relationship between three hypostases, three "subject-centers of free acts."  It involves the mutual surrender of these three "subject-centers of free acts," which gives rise eternally to three "areas of infinite freedom" which at the same time are shared one with the other so that "each of the persons of the Trinity has that person's own mode of participating in the one freedom and subjectivity of the Godhead."  Steck, 37.

An analogy of this interpersonal love found in the Trinity is found in interpersonal relationships among human persons, and so we may learn of the internal workings of the Trinity, albeit it in an analagous manner, by experiencing interpersonal relationships (communio) and then extending that communio eminently to understand the interpersonal relationships between and among the three persons of the Trinity.  In other words, in looking and by looking at the "mutual encounter of finite freedoms" of human persons, and eliminating all that is attributed to finiteness and temporality, we distill out, as it were, an understanding of what relationship occurs within the Trinity Himself, the "mutual encounter of infinite freedoms."  Though Steck does not avert to it, this appears to be the realm of natural theology.

Understanding this aspect of the Trinity is important to understanding von Balthasar's ethical theory.  "If intradivine love is a or even the formative image of our understanding of the ethical life, we do well to reflect on what images might serve it best."  Steck, 38. 

This wonderful relationship between the persons of the Godhead is best revealed in the relationship of the Son to the Father, which is what is revealed to us in the earthly visage of God as Christ walked among men.  It is to that revelation as contained in the Gospels to which we now turn.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Love Both Free and Obedient

VON BALTHASAR attempts to reconcile both freedom (autonomy) and obedience (to law,i.e.,  heteronomy) by focusing on the "gift" aspect of one's relationship when confronting beauty, a confrontation that demands a sort of fitting response.  For von Balthasar, there is no such thing as an autonomous self that lives apart from others.  For him, "autonomy emerges not in isolation from the other, but only in an engagement with the other."  Steck, 27.

For von Balthasar, the normative, moral framework for freedom, at least on the intramundane level, lies in the contours and dynamics of the subject/object encounter viewed aesthetically. Our self-expressiveness only becomes expression, visible as beautiful and free human form, through obedience to the normative forms of human action.

Steck,27. Beauty is what takes us out of our solipsistic shell.  It nudges us, as it were, to give a response, to act outside of ourselves, to love something outside of and extrinsic to us, and in so doing, we exercise our freedom.  Beauty, and the response it elicits, is thus "freedom-granting."  "In the 'seeing' of beauty, the subject breaks out of the self-enclosed sphere of nonfreedom into the expansive horizon of love."  Steck, 27. Therefore, the "obedience" of love is not restrictive, but exactly the opposite: freeing.  It opens us to truth, to good, and it is only in truth and good that we find freedom.

This response is at its acme when one is dealing with an interpersonal encounter, as distinguished from the encounter between a person and a thing.  It is one thing to love a painting by Cézanne; it is altogether something else to confront Cézanne himself.  In an interpersonal encounter, the response to gift is mutual and so there is a mutual increase of freedom and a mutual obedience of love.  Of course, for von Balthasar the Christian, nowhere is this more manifest than in the interpersonal relations with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Indeed, it is precisely this infinite and eternal interpersonal intercommunication that is found within man, the image of God, in a created manner.  There is within man, therefore, a shimmer of God's glory.  He enjoys a "theological beauty" which is both ontological and relational.

God's glory is found in the human person in two ways according to von Balthasar, ontologically and relationally.  First, ontologically, man's shimmer of God's glory is found in the fact that he is made in the image of God.  Within the human person, God "has 'set an image of himself over against himself,' which, because it resembles the archetype, has 'certain traits of glory . . . .  intrinsically . . . proper to it.'"  Steck, 29 (quoting GL6.15)  This glory "proper" to man is bipartite.  First, it involves a capacity for free, that is, autonomous, self-expression.  Second, it involves a sort of stewardship of "lordship" in that man becomes an agent, as it were, of God, a "'representative of God and of God's power as rule.'" Steck, 29 (quoting GL6.91)  Man, therefore, has a "theological beauty," a scintilla of God's glory.  And this "theological beauty" appears in all men irrespective of creed.  It is a natural quality, not a supernatural quality.

This gives man a certain standing before God.  "This sphere of lordship allow the human person be other before God without ever being absolute other."  Steck, 29.  Man's "lordship" is sub Deo et lege, under God and law.

The second way in which God's glory appears in man (and which is part of his "theological beauty") relational.  It arises out of man's ability to form a communion of persons, an "I-Thou" encounter.  This quality is, of course, directly tied to man as imago Dei.  It is, in fact, a necessary component of the human person.  "For von Balthasar, the human person is always a being-in-relationship; in being what we are, we are being with others."  Steck, 30.

It is the second, relational aspect of man that is "the privileged moment of the manifestation of God's glory."  The ontological aspect is in fact supportive of the relational aspect.  This is true not only in terms of natural relationships between two human persons, but eminently so in the case of a human person's relationship with God in Jesus.  Here, the contingent, created theological glory of man comes face to face with the human face of God in Jesus, a most incarnational manifestation of God's uncreated glory.  In relating to God it is created glory responding to uncreated glory.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Beauty, Gift, and Gratitude

IN OUR LAST POST, we addressed the important point that von Balthasar's aesthetics emphasizes the relationship feature, the communicative aspect, as central to the aesthetic experience. Aesthetics involves an encounter: not an encounter of self, but an encounter of an other-to-self. There is therefore an "engagement of freedoms wherein the free self-disclosure of one is greeted and returned by the free self-offering of the other--mutual gift and self-expression joined in an intertwined emergence of the 'We'." Solpisistic aesthetics is incomprehensible. It is never only an "I" or "me," but rather it is is a "we" or an "us."

For an authentic aesthetic experience, there must therefore be a mutuality between the revealing other and the receptive and responsive self.  There is both a giving and a receiving.  There is a "dialogical dimension" intrinsic to aesthetics.

This fact is important in von Balthasar's thinking.  He sees beauty as a sort of bond between truth and good. Truth and good each have their own draw, their own attraction, but in beauty we have a relational feature which is absent in the draw that truth or good has on us. Beauty is a straddler between good and truth:

[B]eauty overcomes two different one-sided approaches. One the one hand, the object is not simply an objective truth of bare fact lacking existential import, for the beautiful form is attractive to the beholder. On the other hand, the object is not simply a malleable thing to be refashioned into some benefit by an evaluating subject, for the beautiful form is objective gift. The beautiful form draws together objective truthfulness with the striving of the beholder toward fulfillment in relationality. The agent's intentionality is directed away from worth as domestication of the other for my sake to worth as a spontaneous pouring forth of a gift. Truth and goodness, apart from beauty, threaten to condense, respectively, around the (now disengaged) objective and subjective poles of worldly encounter. Truth gets reduced to what is "out there," removed from the agent (i.e., correct laws and right ideas), while goodness becomes preoccupied with what satisfies the agent. As long as these two poles are disengaged, there can be no true encounter or harmony of freeedoms. The truth of the other (the "object") would have nothing to do with the agent's desires and, ultimately, his identity. However, with the inclusion of beauty, the two poles are bridged through the deep, ontological eros--a love that is established between they why-lessness of every appearance (its giftedness) and the rapturous response of the beholder.

Steck, 23.* Beauty, therefore, keeps us from lapsing into a pure intrinsic-ism of good or truth (what is good for me, what is true for me) or a pure extrinsic-ism of good or truth (what is objective good, what is objective truth as externally-imposed).  Beauty is what saves us from falling into a purely heteronomous notion of truth and good, or into its opposite, a purely autonomous notion of truth and good.  Beauty allows for a binomous or duonomous notion of truth or good.  Implied in this is that any attractiveness to the good or to the truth is based upon the beauty (or glory, if dealing with God) intrinsic in the truth and the good.  It is this quality what attracts.  It is what calls for a response.  It is, in the final order of things, a realization of someone giving a gift, our receiving that gift, and our thanksgiving for that gift.

The response that is prompted by beauty is closely imitative of the response that is required in moral responses."Ethical behavior," just like aesthetic experience, "takes shape as grateful response." Steck, 24.  With respect to response, von Balthasar is careful to preserve freedom.  The response that beauty elicits from us is an obligation of fittingness, of rightness.  Failure to respond to beauty "is not only an aesthetic wrongness, but a genuine moral wrongness."  This failure ought not to be seen as a violation of some duty, or some law, but as a "visible deformation of freedom's expression."  Steck, 25.  What should have been a "free, creative, loving" response is instead short-of-the-mark, "marred."  Steck, 25.

By tying the aesthetic and moral response, in particular the free response between object and subject, von Balthasar avoids Kantian coldness and dryness of "pure" reason or "pure" unimaginative submission to a universal rule without regarding to one-on-one response. It departs in two significant ways:
First the law that freedom embodies is universal but not simply uniform. That is, it subsists in the engaged, interpersonal actions of unique individuals in which personal particularity, creativity, and spontaneity so shape the course of their encounters that aesthetic rightness more aptly describes the embodiment of the moral law than conformity to universalizable maxims, where the particularities tend to be viewed as accidentals accruing to an isolable, moral core. Second, the moral law has an epiphanic dimension. It is aesthetically perceived, not just judged to be the law through an objection application of rational principles.
Steck, 25. Thus von Balthasar seeks to join both law and freedom in this aesthetic "ought."  "[T]his aesthetic ought is is softer than the binding inflexibility of logical consistency.  It invites and attracts; it does not at all cajole with the threat of reprisals."  Steck, 26. 
*Here, and elsewhere, I have replaced the female personal pronoun with the masculine (generic sense) personal pronoun.  For me, Steck's use of the female personal pronoun (she/her) as generic is distracting and unnatural.  It may be PC, but it is not proper English.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Beauty as Address

THERE IS A TENDENCY IN MODERNS to view the artist as one who is expressive of self. This, of course, is part and parcel of modernity's rejection of objective values and emphasis on individualism and subjectivity. To grasp von Balthasar's aesthetic theory, however, we must shed ourselves of these views. For von Balthasar, art is a means of communication, and he focuses not only upon the artist, but also upon the viewer. Von Balthasar therefore places great importance on the objectivity of art. "By restoring the expressiveness of the objection, his aesthetics indicates dimensions of human agency that would otherwise be lost to view." Steck, 20. 

Accordingly, "the paradigm of human action [in aesthetics] has little to do with an individualistic or aggressive pursuit of self-fashioned goals."  Steck, 20.  Von Balthasar's aesthetics has more to do with the active reception of the object, and one's proper response to the other's address through the object (the subject-response).  Art (including the divine "art" of Creation and the even greater "art" of the God-Man Jesus) is less something of self-expression, and more something of communication.  That's why von Balthasar can seize on the human perception of, and response to, beauty as something analogous to moral action.  For von Balthasar, it takes at least two to have an aesthetics.  A solipsistic aesthetics is a surd.

Aesthetics is not merely about self-expression

Self-expression is an oxymoron.  Expression is always to an other.  The former is unreal.  The latter is real.  Communico ergo sum.   "Only through expressing oneself to the other does the person exist.  Sheer inwardness in itself--that is, the person apart from self-expression within relationships--achieves no form."  Steck, 21.

(This principle, that "sheer inwardness in itself--that is, the person apart from self-expression without relationships--achieves no form.  Such an individual would be existence without essence, freedom without determination," has significant ramifications for our notion of God.  If God is "sheer inwardness in itself" as in Allah, he is lonely; he is "existence without essence," pure will.  If God, on the other hand, is not "sheer inwardness in itself," then there must be some sort of relational life within God, i.e., God would seem to be trinitarian.)

This relational reality is at the core of von Balthasar's aesthetic theory.  He sees it as something that arises from our very nature, a nature that shares the trinitarian image of the God who made him.

We are directed towards others, and this directionality is fundamental to our sense of self; our identities are constructed through relationships with others. The ultimate ground for this self-expressive relationality is the Trinity: "The finite person bears the stamp of the imago trinitatis, which means that it can only be and become a person by relating to the other persons it encounters on its way through life.

Steck, 21 (quoting from TD5.302)

This relational nature allows us naturally to want to relate to the other, and the other discloses itself to us.  This requires us to be an active recipient of the other's "word."  In a real sense, we have to allow ourselves to be claimed by the object and receive its gift of self-expression.  We must allow ourselves, "freely, actively," to enter into the other's "spell and radiant space."  Steck, 22.

Clearly, von Balthsar's focus is on the receiving agent.  "This idea of active receptivity is key to von Balthasar's understanding of human agency."  "[I]n receiving, and thus also responding to the other (the two moments cannot be separated from one another), express ourselves and thereby achieve our own identities."  Steck, 22.

Worlds apart are we from aesthetics as self-expression.  Aesthetics is other-expressing-to-other, the artist expressing to recipient and eliciting a response.  The focus is on the receiver and on the response.  Beauty, then, is a form of communication, a relational concept, and it is this relationship aspect that is at the core of von Balthasar's theory of aesthetics and his theology of glory.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Form and Splendor

IN VON BALTHASHAR'S view, every beautiful object that presents itself to us is both known and unknown. Nothing is without its sense of mystery of hiddenness. When we confront another person, a free subject, that mystery or hiddenness involves not only who that person is, but who that person might choose to become. Beyond that, however, there is the mystery that this object is, there is the mystery of being, of conditional or contingent existence, which the object before us communicates in a coy way through a form of "light."

In the contingency of the beautiful object, we perceive a freedom (it does not have to be). In the beauty of the finite object, we perceive a giftedness (its presence to us is not only freely bestowed, but attractive and thus experienced as a gift).

Steck, 15.  Every object we confront, if we are but sensitive to it, is therefore a potential epiphany or theophany.  From being we become aware of Being.  From beauty we become aware of Glory.  "The epiphany of the finite form directs us to the Giver who is self-grounded freedom."  Steck, 15.  Light from light.  Splendor from form.

This contingency in a beautiful of object which bespeaks of both gift and Giver make us aware that there is a certain "mysterious sheen" in everything which gives rise to a dual communication, a bipolarity of form and splendor.  The notion of form and splendor is important in von Balthasars theology and aesthetics, particularly in his theory of perception. What is form?  What is splendor?
Form is the external manifestation of a being's "inwardness," or what von Balthasar often refers to as its "intimacy." It is what first draws our conscious attention when encountering the object. The object's visible shape and harmony, the convergence of its component elements and dynamic "life" as a whole, allow us to see it as a form. Splendor is the radiation of the inner depths of the object out of which the form appears.

Steck, 15.  We draw out the form of the object.  We intimate the splendor.  "In short, we do not read a natural form without perceiving something, 'invisible' as well, something 'beyond and more profound.'"  Steck, 16.  Every form communicates, irradiates from within itself through by splendor its beauty.  And that beauty "testifies that this form can be found in the choice, the will, and the freedom of the Creator, and thus that in this form truth and goodness can be found."  Steck, 16.  From natural aesthetics we go into theological aesthetics.

If we are but sensitive, if we but become engaged, we will see God in all things, in the truth, goodness, but particularly in the beauty of all things.  Steck ties the Balthasarian doctrine to the Ignatian doctrine that we ought to "hallar Dios en todas cosas," find God in all things.  Steck, 16.

Unfortunately, the modern world has become disengaged from this reality.  We have bracketed ourselves from this reality.  The "spell" has been broken.  In the words of Weber, the world's become disenchanted, entzaubert.  We have to become re-engaged.  We have to "step back" to allow the things of this world to speak to us in these deeper ways again.  Von Balthasar insists that we "combine the cooly precision of scientific research with a constant awareness of the totality apparent only to the eye of reverence, the poetic-religious eye, the ancient sense for the cosmos."  Steck, 18 (quoting VB, GL5.363)

All things of this world are therefore expressive, not simply passive and inert.  They are earthly garments wherein God's glory is made manifest, albeit in hidden form.  They will, if we but let them, if we but become engaged, cast a "spell" of of wonder upon us.  They all, in lesser or greater ways, intimate the Trinitarian Creator who from his Being gives being. 

This is particularly true when it comes to persons.  There form ought to express in a particularly unique way a splendor, and, beyond that, the glory of the Lord who creates and maintains the gift that each person is:

The more the light of divine freedom illuminates the form, the more deeply will the perceiver be affected. The human person is created as uniquely expressive of God. More than any other worldy form this form can be called glorious and, more than any other form, this form requires our "stepping back" to attend to its self-expression.
 Steck, 18.

So much for the world--its inanimate things, its living creatures, and man.  But this same sort of response is required when confronting the Christ-form and seeing the Christ-splendor and in this Christ-form-and-splendor seeing the Glory of God in its fullness.  We must become engaged in Christ.  Given Christ's unique revelation, this engagement requires surrender, obedience, love.  It is Christ's beauty which, above all, draws us to the Lord.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

God's Glory Appears: The Need for Beauty in Theology

IN HANS URS VON BALTHASAR, the theory of aesthetics--the theory of human perception of beauty, and human response to it--is a central, if implicit, chord of his ethics. Von Balthasar sees human perception and response to beauty (which deals with the created order) as analogous to human perception and response to the divine glory (which deals with Christ and God). The latter response (to divine glory) of a man to Jesus, is fundamentally the moral act. Jesus Christ is God's glory made manifest in a unique way, and man's perception of that glory demands a response, one of free submission and love, to Christ's form.  Confronted suddenly with Christ, all responses to beauty become relativized or subordinate to Christ without thereby losing their worth.  After all, they are still theophanous, or God-revealing, in a sense.

For Von Balthasar, morality may be said to be a preeminent form of aesthetics. They run parallel in analogous channels. Aesthetics is human response (love) to the Word in the created world (which gives rise to beauty). Morality is the human response (love) to the Word in the God-Man Jesus (which gives rise to glory).  In a middling channel, as it were, is our response to our neighbor, where the image of God in man radiates the God behind it in a particular way, to be sure in an order infinitely below the Christ-form,  but still commanding a moral response. 

Balthasar's understanding of the word "glory" is biblical. His theory is founded upon an elaboration of the Hebrew word kabod (כָּבוֺד) or the Greek word doxa (δόξα). Kabod and doxa are the words most frequently used in the Scriptures to refer to the divine beauty that manifests itself in the vestiges of God in the created order, in the forms of the world. "Since reality is always charge with divine presence," Steck states, "it is always possible for graced eyes to find in worldly form the reflection of the absolute," the Logos. Beauty points beyond itself to the implicit creator behind it.  "Thus, divine beauty, glory, has its analogue in earthly beauty."  Steck, 12.  There is an "analogical tie" between beauty and glory.  Steck, 12.

 The Mosaics of Monreale, Palermo: Jesus Christ Pantokrator.

The appearance of glory in Christ--the "Christ-form"--is unique, decisive, and absolute. While glory lies behind earthly, created forms, Christ is the divine glory itself made flesh. "Christ is himself absolute truth, goodness, and beauty in concrete form. He makes visible that to which every other instance of truth, goodness, and beauty can only point." What is implicit in the created order becomes explicit in Christ through the created order, i.e., his human nature. Because the glory of God shines both through created things and supereminently in Christ there is an analogy that may be drawn between aesthetics (the human response to glory in created things, eros) and morality (the human response to glory in Christ, agape). The appropriate response to the divine image in our neighbor (also agape), is deeply tied to our response to Christ, and, unlike our response to beauty (which is psychological and may even, if corrupted be sentimental or maudlin), our response to our neighbor is a moral response. Moral response to glory, which certainly does not exclude the affective or psychological part of man, is nevertheless something entirely different from psychological, sentimental, or emotional response which is the typical reaction when confronting beauty.

Importantly, for von Balthasar, when one encounters Christ, one does not only encounter truth, good, and being, one also encounters beauty.  Christ is beautiful.  Indeed, he goes beyond beautiful to being glorious.

While the appearance of God's glory in Christ and our response to it is preeminent, one must not therefore reject the appearance of God's glory in creation and our response to it.  One might say that the former is the response to the Logos in faith, while the latter is response to the Logos in reason.  Therefore, the former is theological, the latter is philosophical.  But (as one might expect in a Catholic theologian) they are mutually supportive, and not in opposition.
Ultimately for von Balthasar, non genuine theology of glory--and thus no adequate Christian theology--can be achieved without the inclusion of beauty as a part of the philosophical substratum of theological reflection.

Steck, 12.

The aesthetic response that von Balthasar identifies is not that of Kierkegaard's aesthete.*  Unlike Kierkegaard's aesthete who lives for himself and whose aesthetic response is self-regarding, the human who responds to beauty is, in von Balthasar's view, drawn out of himself and is other-regarding.  Human response to beauty is similar to human response to truth, to good, to being.  In fact, neglect of beauty distorts our response to truth, to good, and to being.  For von Balthasar, beauty is a transcendental.**  Just as there can be a theology of truth, of good, of being, there can be a theology of beauty or a theology of glory.

Von Balthasar finds this theology of glory is "at the enter of the most important and creative theologies in Christian history."  Steck, 11. 

[Von Balthasar] finds indicators of this theology in the themes that reappear in the works of these great thinkers [Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Dante, Pascal, and Hopkins]: the ever-greaterness of God, the eros of human longing which Christ awakens, the orientation of nature to the advent of grace, the sacramentality of the world's images, the shattering of human understanding before the "whylessness"*** of God's love as revealed in Christ.

Steck, 10.  Von Balthasar thus extracts from Catholic tradition his theology of glory.  He ties it with the Catholic concept of the "analogy of being"†  By tying these two together, he concludes that "divine beauty, glory, has its analogue in earthly beauty."  And beauty then becomes important "because it assists in a theological reflection on divine glory."  Steck, 12.  This connection is some important for von Balthasar, that "no genuine theology of glory--and no adequate Christian theology--can be achieved without the inclusion of beauty as a part of the philosophical substratum of theological reflection."  Grace builds upon nature.  Theology of glory builds upon aesthetics.

Beauty is also necessary "because it alone can preserve the connection between truth and goodness."  Steck, 12.  Truth, good, and beauty belong as a trinity.  Remove beauty from the mix and truth and good separate into separate spheres.  Truth becomes empirical science with its "thin" view of nature.  Cold, ugly, inhuman.  Remove beauty and good devolves into what is useful, one falls into utilitarian or pragmatic ethic.  Again, cold, calculating, inhuman.  "For beauty indicates that the world is already more than simple facts and that its goodness is more than the determination of costs and benefits."  Steck, 13.

It is beauty that makes us wonder about truth.  It is beauty that makes us desire to do good.  Beauty also allows us to be open to truth and good, particularly the true and the good in divine revelation.  "For von Balthasar, the beautiful form heralds creation's openness to 'something more.'"  Steck, 13. 

Finally, it is beauty that provides a pedagogical aid to truth and good.  It allows metaphors, images, parables, etc. to describe truth, to encourage the good.  Imagine a world where you tried to encourage your fellows to do good if you could not tell the parable of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son.  Imagine a world where you tried to encourage your fellows to truth, without an icon of the Pantokrator or without the image of a Crucifix.  Imagine getting your fellows to love God without Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring or without St. Bernard of Clairvaux's Jesus dulcis memoria.  Imagine enjoining them to love the created world and give thanks to the Lord for it without St. Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Sun.

Our love for God ought to be opulent, and only beauty allows for that to happen.
*Kierkegaard divides human response or spheres of existence into three: aesthetic (life "for self"), ethical (life "for others"), and religious (life "for God").  This division is discussed in a variety of his works, including Either/Or, Guilty/Not Guilty and Stages on Life's Way.
**Steck defines the transcendental "being" as "the most general and universally predictable [sic] {I think this should be predicable} feature of reality, transcending yet including all of them." Steck, 11.  The other transcendentals (one, good, true, and beautiful) are nothing other than being under other aspects.  "Insofaras being is undivided in an existent, it is 'one.'  Insofar as it is knowable, it is 'true.'  Insofar as it is lovable, it is 'good.'  Insofar as it is both knowable and lovable (at once), it is 'beautiful.'"  Steck, 11.  There is some controversy about whether beauty is a transcendental and whether St. Thomas believed it to be. 
***This word ("whylessness"), used by von Balthasar, is obviously a neologism in English.  It is used by e. e. cummings in his poem "enterno(silence": "an i breathe-move-and-seem some perpetually roaming whylessness" to describe the thoughts of someone meditating in autumn of impending winter, clearly a reference of an aging man contemplating the imminence of his death and the whylessness or meaninglessness of life.  It is the utterance of a man unsinging, not a man singing.  As used by Steck and von Balthasar, "whylessness" seems to have a positive connotation of the utter gratuity of grace.  Is is the "whylessness" of a man singing, of a man in love.  Ultimately, there is no "reason" for God's grace, it is "whyless," it is nothing but an utter act of gratuitous love.  It is like a lover answering the question, "Why do you love me?"  "I don't know," is the response, "I just do."  Any mention of attributes ("you're beautiful," "you're kind," "you make me happy," etc.) is, in a sense, a diminishment of authentic love is is "whyless."  The notion is taken by Von Balthasar from the writings of Meister Eckhart who in his Sermons and Tractates wrote about the "whyless" nature of our response to God and the "whyless" nature of love, of creation, or grace (Âne warumbe / sunder warumbe). 
†Analogy of being (analogia entis) is a central concept in Catholic theology.  Very simply, it stands for the proposition that there is an analogy between God's absolute being, good, truth, unity, and beauty and contingent, created being, truth, unity, and beauty.  Though the difference between created and creator is infinite, there remains yet an analogy between the qualities of the created and Creator.  So we are able to predicate things we learn from created reality (the beauty of a beloved, fidelity in marriage, life, goodness) supereminently to God and not be lying or saying false things about him, but saying something meaningful and true, even if very limited.  We can do this by reason, which allows for natural theology.  It is also done in revelation.  How else could Jesus compare God's love for his people to a hen's love for its chicks? (Cf. Luke 13:34).

Monday, May 14, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Von Balthasar's Ethics

OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS, we are going to review Christopher Steck's book The Ethical Thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar.* Though as Steck indicates, von Balthasar never wrote any synthetic treatment on moral theology or ethics, Steck attempts to glean an ethic from von Balthasar's prodigious corpus, specifically from his multi-volume works The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics (7 vols.), Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory (5 vols.), and, to a lesser extent, his Theologik (3 vols).  (There is also a short essay, "Nine Propositions of Christian Ethics," from which Steck draws.)  I have read some--though by no means all--of von Balthasar's work.  His thought is complex, and I have hardly scratched its surface, much less mastered it.  I shall therefore rely on Steck's efforts to "assemble a coherent theory of ethics out of his [von Balthasar's] approaches to related concepts--e.g., human agency, anthropology, and freedom."  (Steck, 5)  Necessarily, we will be looking more at "Steck on von Balthasar" than on von Balthashar himself independently.  I assume, therefore, that Steck presents a fair depiction of von Balthasar's ethical thought. (Though Steck himself sounds a warning: "Given the richness and depth of von Balthasar's ideas and their unsystematic presentation, however, there probably can be no definitive interpretation of his ethics.) As an aside, the title to this series is taken from Steck.  He presents this phrase--God's glory appears--as the central kernel of von Balthasar's ethical thought. (Steck, 1)

At first glance, I find some of Steck's overview in his introduction troubling.  There are some things he suggests can be found in von Balthasar's thought (which he compares and contrasts with Karl Rahner's and Karl Barth's thought) which are disconcerting.  There are other things he says which pique my interest and which suggest some real insights.

First, the attractive aspects.  To begin with, Steck characterizes von Balthasar's ethics as Christocentric.  It seems obvious to me that any Christian ethics must be Christocentric.  No flags here.**  While a natural law theory has the benefit of allowing us to speak with non-believers, there is no Christian natural law advocate that would suggest that the natural law is the last word on ethics.  The natural law is necessary, but not sufficient for salvation.  The natural law does not save, though it might help from landing us in Hell.  Who other than Christ can forgive us for our violations of the natural law?  Moreover, Christ saves.  Christ provides supernatural grace.  Christ is the way to human fulfillment in the sense of eternal beatitude.  It is Jesus that shows a way beyond the natural life of man.  Homo non proprie humanus sed superhumanus est!

A second attractive feature seems to be where Steck says that von Balthasar (and Rahner, and Barth) want to stress the relationship with God as covenantal (or personal). As I see it, a relationship with God ought to be a one-on-one relationship, although it is never one that takes us outside the natural law or the confines of the Church. Nevertheless, in stressing a personal relationship, there seems to be a danger of minimizing the public covenants within which this personal covenant must exist.  We are not each a church.  We are not each a people of God.  We are not each our own magisterium.  We do, however, each have our own conscience, and our own intimacy and personal relationship to God.

Third, von Balthasar's ethic wants to stress how God's relationship "constitutes, at least partially, our identity."  I should think God's relationship ought to be transformative, and should help form who we are.  And yet, our unique identity does not make us something other than we are.  Regardless of who we are as an individual, we are still human.  Our relationship with God does not make us something other than men.  I think Blessed John Paul II captures the concept that Christ perfects nature well when he exclaimed to man and his families: "Become what you are!"

Fourth, Steck argues that von Balthasar's ethical thought was deeply influenced by St. Ignatius of Loyola.  (Von Balthasar was a Jesuit between 1929 and 1950.)

The deep grammar of von Balthasar's ethics and theology resonates powerfully with the Spiritual Exercises [of St. Ignatius].  Therefore, his project might be understood as a contribution to this task of articulating an Ignatian theology and ethics for the Christian community. . . . Because of [St.Ignatius's] influence, we can appropriately describe von Balthasar's ethics as an "Ignation reconfiguration" of divine command ethics.

Steck, 5.  Steck suggests that von Balthasar's ethical thought--which drew little from the Thomistic well--was more able than Karl Rahner's thought in making this Ignatian character bloom.  The Ignatian principle to seek and find God in all things (which includes persons)--buscar y hallar Dios en todas las cosas--is quite lovely.  While the implied deprecation of St. Thomas is not welcome, I find the Ignatian angle worth exploring. 

Now, the worrisome things. Steck labels von Balthasar's ethics as a "command ethics," one based upon divine command, i.e., voluntarism.  Steck, 1.  Steck admits that this "runs counter to the general trend in catholic ethics."  Steck, 1.  He argues, however, that von Balthasar is able to get around the problems necessarily or frequently associated with voluntaristic ethics (nominalism, a-rationality or arbitrariness in God's commands, the chasm between what is divine and what is human stemming from the rejection of the analogy of being) through his theory of aesthetics.  Through his theory of aesthetics, von Balthasar is able to overcome the problems with a voluntaristic ethics, but also keep the benefits of such an ethic (e.g., absolute sovereignty of God, God's freedom, and "interpersonal encounter").***  Then he suggests that von Balthasar's enterprise should abrogate the traditional natural law ethic and replace it.†

Steck suggests that there are certain benefits associated with a voluntaristic ethic that cannot be obtained through a natural law ethic.  The "living presence and sovereignty of God in one's life; the Christian life as the intentional response to God's work in salvation history; the covenantal encounter, which stakes a particular claim on the human agent; the vocational call, which comes in prayerful consideration of what God wants for oneself."  He suggests that these are "kept on the margins" by those Catholic theologians that espouse a "strictly natural law reflection."  Steck, 2.  I have no idea why the first two don't fit in with natural law thought.  As to the last two--which deal with special calls, with vocations, with the evangelical counsels--I cannot see how they contradict the natural law, unless one believes that one can have a call or a vocation to violate the natural moral law or that the evangelical counsels violate natural law norms.  I do not see the natural law ethic as suffering from these flaws.

 Fr. Christopher Steck, S.J.

*Christopher Steck, S.J., The Ethical Thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar (New York: Herder & Herder, 2001).
**Christocentrism can be so absolute as to disregard any reality about man outside the New Testament covenant.  In an extremist case such as Karl Barth  (who draws from John Calvin's theology and similar apprehensiveness on the natural moral law), it results in an absolute rejection of the natural moral law, and all ethics are based upon positivism.  This sort of Christocentrism is erroneous,whatever its sincerity, because it seems to forget the subject that Christ came to save: a human.   It also seems to go against St. Paul's letter to the Romans and the overwhelming weight if not unanimity of the Catholic tradition until the Protestant Reformation, which, in various ways, rejected the natural law doctrine of the Church.  (The Protestant tradition, one may note, has been particularly ineffective in holding the front against the collapse of morals in the West.  In most cases, they have been accommodating.  This is largely the result of their rejection of natural law.)  We have addressed Karl Barth's hostile relationship with the natural law in prior postings.  See "Karl Barth's Response to Natural Law: Nein!," "Karl Barth's Tin Ear: Notes, But No Melody,"and "Karl Barth: Rubbing out the Image of God in Man."  As Steck summarizes Barth's thought: "An ethical system of universal moral norms threatens to squeeze human activity, and thus human identity, into a uniform mold that hides the existential quality of human activity--that is, its capacity to manifest an identity-shaped response to a grace that is always concrete, historical, personal, and ultimately determinative of our being." Steck, 3.  Based upon Steve Long's work, we have also had cause to address von Balthasar's (and others in the Nouvelle Theologie group) rejection of the concept of natura pura (pure nature).  See, e.g., the multi-post series on this blog: Balthasar's Theological Vacuoule, Parts 1-5.  (These can be accessed by going to the label "Hans Urs von Balthasar on Natural Law").
***I have a difficult time seeing how an "interpersonal encounter" arises from voluntarism and is not found in a realistic or natural law theory based upon reason.  Although I advocate a traditional natural law theory, it has never seemed to have minimized the "intepersonal encounter" with God through the Sacraments, prayer, lectio divina, meditative prayer, or contemplative prayer.  I think the "interpersonal encounter" may be a code word for finding an escape hatch out of the universal law. 
†"Ultimately, I want to go beyond a descriptive claim about von Balthasar's ethics (i.e., it is a form of divine command ethics) to a specific, normative claim: the central commitment of divine command ethics--that the moral obligation conforming the individual depends in a substantive way on the divine will-can and should be part of Catholic theological ethics."  Steck, 2.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Terrorism an Intrinsic Evil

TERRORISM IS AN OFFENSE AGAINST GOD AND MAN. It would not be far off to say that it is a moral crime that cries out to heaven with a vengeance. "Terrorism," says the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, "is one of the most brutal forms of violence traumatizing the international community today."  Terrorism "sows hatred, death, and an urge for revenge and reprisal."  From a moral standpoint, it represents an inexcusable violation of the natural moral law.  Its crime arises from the fact that it target complete innocents, destroying both property and person, without regard to innocence or guilt of the victim, and without the justification of defense.  (Compendium, No. 513)  It acts outside both law and morals.  It is an inhumane, intrinsic evil.  "Terrorism is to be condemned in the most absolute terms."  (Compendium, No. 514)

To the extent that the root causes of terrorism can be addressed, there is a moral obligation to try to alleviate those conditions.  (Compendium, No. 513)  Accordingly, there must be "a courageous and lucid analysis of the reasons behind terrorist attacks."  (Compendium, No. 514)  Additionally, there is a place for removing "the problems that in certain dramatic circumstances can foster terrorism."  (Compendium, No. 514)  The terrorist may be responding in an inappropriate way to long-term trampling and the suffering of injustice, real or perceived.  Therefore, the fight against terrorism is not limited to punitive or physical defense alone, but should involve efforts to reach the heart and minds.

That being said, it remains true that no condition whatsoever justifies the terrorist act, and a society has the near absolute right to defend itself against such a threat.  (Compendium, No. 514)  Even confronting this absolute moral evil, however, requires moral response.  Defending against an immoral act does not justify immoral response, and so the struggle against terrorism must comply with "moral and legal norms," with respect for human rights, and be within the rule of law.

One of the principles that must be recalled is that culpability for terrorism is "always personal," and it is therefore unreasonable to place culpability on religions, nations, or ethnic groups as a whole.  (Compendium, No. 514) 

Of all the execrable acts of terrorism, the most offensive are those in which the terrorist declares himself acting in God's name.
It is a profanation, and a blasphemy to declare oneself a terrorist in God's name. In such cases, God, and not only man, is exploited by a person who claims to possess the totality of God's truth rather than one who seeks to be possessed by the truth. To define as "martyrs" those who die while carrying out terroristic attacks distorts the concept of martyrdom, which is the witness of a person who gives himself up to death rather than deny God and his love. Martyrdom cannot be the act of a person who kills in the name of God.

(Compendium, No. 515)

The Muslim who advocates, sponsors, or participates in terrorism in the name of Allah stands condemned under the natural moral law as an offender against both man and God.  He acts in the spirit of darkness, pursuing the vicious desires of Baal, and not in the spirit of light, pursuing the suavity of God.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Laws are not Silent in Times of War

CICERO STATED THAT IN WAR there is no law, silent enim legis inter arma, for laws are muted, are silent among arms.*  The force of arms is what happens when the force of law collapses.  But though this is true in one sense, it must not be true in another sense.  There are certain laws which those involved in war must take into account and never transgress.  While war may be morally engaged in if one follows the traditional just war ius in bello principles, these presuppose certain limits.  The Compendium identifies those intrinsically evil acts which are never justified as part of the horrors of war.  They are crimes against God and crimes against humanity.

The first of these areas involves the treatment of the innocent, which is to say the non-combatant.  Those engaged in warfare have a "duty to protect and help innocent victims who are not able to defend themselves from acts of aggression."  This includes those "precepts of international humanitarian law," such as those contained in the Geneva conventions.  (Compendium, No. 504) "The principle of humanity inscribed in the conscience of every person and all peoples includes the obligation to protect civil populations from the effects of war." (Compendium, No. 505)  Wholly excluded from war's destructive force is intentionally targeting innocent civilians. Massacres of innocents, removal of innocent populations from their homes, forced transfers, ethnic cleansings, rape of women as a method of warfare. These are some of the means that are absolutely prohibited.

 "Genocide No. 1" by Daphne Odjig

Genocide is particularly odious:

Attempts to eliminate entire national, ethnic, religious or linguistic groups are crimes against God and humanity itself, and those responsible for such crimes must answer for them before justice. The twentieth century bears the tragic mark of different genocides: from that of the Armenians to that of the Ukrainians, from that of the Cambodians to those perpetrated in Africa and in the Balkans. Among these, the Holocaust of the Jewish people, the Shoah, stands out: "the days of the Shoah marked a true night of history, with unimaginable crimes against God and humanity."

(Compendium, No. 506)

Not only is genocide something absolutely proscribed from a moral standpoint, it is something that imposes upon nations an affirmative obligation to prevent.  Under appropriate circumstances, it justifies the use of force against the wrongdoer.  And those responsible should face justice.
The international community as a whole has the moral obligation to intervene on behalf of those groups whose very survival is threatened or whose basic human rights are seriously violated. As members of an international community, States cannot remain indifferent; on the contrary, if all other available means should prove ineffective, it is "legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor." The principle of national sovereignty cannot be claimed as a motive for preventing an intervention in defense of innocent victims. The measures adopted must be carried out in full respect of international law and the fundamental principle of equality among States.
(Compendium, No. 506)

Often forgotten are the means of sanctions and the moral rules that govern their use.  While sanctions are often preferable to war, one must recollect that sanctions ought not to be used as a means to punish innocent populations.  For this reason, economic sanctions--whose effects are indiscriminate and usually fall on innocent populations, especially the weak and vulnerable among them--ought to be used only with great circumspection. 

Sanctions, in the forms prescribed by the contemporary international order, seek to correct the behavior of the government of a country that violates the rules of peaceful and ordered international coexistence or that practices serious forms of oppression with regard to its population. The purpose of these sanctions must be clearly defined and the measures adopted must from time to time be objectively evaluated by the competent bodies of the international community as to their effectiveness and their real impact on the civilian population. The true objective of such measures is open to the way to negotiation and dialogue. Sanctions must never be used as a means for the direct punishment of an entire population: it is not licit that entire populations, and above all their most vulnerable members, be made to suffer because of such sanctions. Economic sanctions in particular are an instrument to be used with great discernment and must be subjected to strict legal and ethical criteria. An economic embargo must be of limited duration and cannot be justified when the resulting effects are indiscriminate.

(Compendium, No. 507)

Cicero, Pro Milone, IV.11

Monday, May 7, 2012

War: What is it Good For?

AS AN INSTRUMENT OF AFFIRMATIVE or ordinary policy, war is condemned by the Church. The Church has cried against war like a bell ringing its tocsin: "never again some peoples against others, never again! no more war, no more war!"* (Compendium, No. 497)   Indeed, a "war of aggression is intrinsically immoral."  (Compendium, No 500)

Particularly modernly, the Church has condemned the "savagery of war." War does not justify itself; it must be justified. With the rise of modern technology, war has become particularly brutal, particularly inhumane. War is a physical evil always. It is a "scourge." Not only is war a physical evil, more often than not it is a moral evil also, and moral evils always seem to come in its dark train. "The damage caused by an armed conflict is not only material, but also moral." (Compendium, No. 497) 

War is difficult to control: indeed, it seems to devour its participants and embroil them in barbarism. It nurses hatred, desire for vengeance, and bitterness between peoples.  War is "the failure of all true humanism." (Compendium, No. 497)  The "terrifying power of the means of destruction--to which even medium and small-sized countries have access--and the ever closer links between the peoples of the whole world make it very difficult of practically impossible to limit the consequences of a conflict." (Compendium, No. 498)

The sheer brutality of violent war and the physical and moral evils that are always part and parcel of its consequences is what underlies the Church's desire to remove those circumstances that often give rise to war: injustice, poverty, exploitation.  Instead of promoting war, the Church seeks to promote peace, to promote the cooperation between peoples, to promote their physical and moral development and thereby obviate if at all possible the violence of war as an instrument of policy.

While wars of aggression are always condemned as intrinsically evil, the Church recognizes that war is sometimes forced upon a nation.  A nation "that has been attacked" has the "right and the duty to organize a defense even using the force of arms."**  (Compendium, No. 500)  In such circumstances, the Church has fashioned a "just war" doctrine which both outlines when a defensive war may be morally fought and how such defensive war may be fought.  Traditionally, therefore, the Church has divided its "just war" doctrine into two: jus ad bellum and jus in bello.

The traditional elements of jus ad bellum--when war may rightly be entered into by a nation--are outlined in the Compendium:
  • There must be a just cause of war.  That is to say, the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be "lasting, grave, and certain."
  • There must be a right intention.  In other words, the just cause must be the motive and not just a pretext for entering into the war.
  • All other means to obviate the aggression must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; the defensive war must be a last resort, and so there must be a practical necessity for it.
  • there must be serious prospects of success if war is entered into;
  • the resort to arms must not produce evils and disorders greater than the evil sought to be eliminated.  In other words, entering into war must appear to be proportionally the better result than not entering into war.
The weighing of these conditions and the prudential decision that are therein entailed are the responsibility of the authority who has the responsibility for the common good.

Since nations have a right to defense, it follows that they have the right to possess "sufficient means to exercise this right to defense," including the existence of armed forces.  (Compendium, 500, 502)  However, the "possession of war potential does not justify the use of force for political or military objectives," nor does it justify the imposition of "domination on another nation."  There is always an obligation to "do everything possible 'to ensure that the conditions of peace exist.'"  (Compendium, No. 500)

Once engaged in war, there are certain moral restrictions upon how war is to be fought.  These rules are called jus in bello.
  •  particularly brutal weapons (chemical, biological) are not to be used;
  • the non-combatants are to be considered immune from direct and intentional attack;
  • force must be proportional to the end sought;
  • prisoners of war must be treated with benevolence, and they may not be threatened with death, starvation, rape, torture, or inhumane conditions, etc.
  • no intrinsically evil means are to be used (e.g., rape, genocide, weapons of mass destruction)
  • reprisals are not to be engaged in (if the opposition violates the jus in bello, it does not justify reciprocal violations).
Particularly given the experience of World War II and the invocation of the "Nuremberg defense" (where a military officer seeks to defend himself from immoral action based upon the defense that he was following the orders of a superior officer), the Church insists on personal responsibility of each member of the military:

Every member of the armed forces is morally obliged to resist orders that call for perpetrating crimes against the law of nations and the universal principles of this law. Military personnel remain fully responsible for the act they commit in violation of the rights of individuals and peoples, or of the norms of international humanitarian law. Such acts cannot be justified by claiming obedience to the orders of superiors.
(Compendium, No. 503)

Finally, the Church insists on respect for the rights of conscientious objectors, yet also insists that these shoulder their duties to the common good:
Conscientious objectors who, out of principle, refuse military service in those cases where it is obligatory because their conscience rejects any kind of recourse to the use of force or because they are opposed to the participation in a particular conflict, must be open to accepting alternative forms of service. "It seems just that laws should make humane provision for the case of conscientious objectors who refuse to carry arms, provided they accept some other form of community service."
 (Compendium, No. 503) (quoting VII, Gaudium et spes, 79)

*John Paul II, Address to the Diplomatic Corps (Jan. 13, 2003), 4.
**Problematic is the notion of preventive war.  When is a preventive war justified as a defensive war?  "[E]ngaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent" would seem prohibited.  But if there is clear proof of an imminent attack, a nation may engage in preventive war.  (Compendium, No. 501)